Miriam Merten Overview
Justice Action submitted a report to the NSW Health Department Inquiry after the death of Miriam Merten, mother of two and a mental health patient from Lismore Base Hospital. Miriam died on 3rd June 2014 from injuries sustained during her time in seclusion. The horrific nature of Miriam’s treatment was evidenced with shocking CCTV footage of her final hours, exposing the lack of care from the NSW Health Staff at Lismore Base Hospital along with their abject failure to intervene in her untimely death.
Ms Merten died in 2014 from a brain injury after she fell more than 20 times whilst in the care of the Mental Health Unit of Lismore Base Hospital. The coronial inquest into Ms Merten’s death found that Ms Merton died from a "traumatic brain injury caused by numerous falls and the self-beating of her head on various surfaces, the latter not done with the intention of taking her life". Disturbing CCTV footage of the neglected, blood and faeces splattered, Ms Merten wondering the corridors of the Lismore facility on the night of her death have emerged, and be viewed in this article.
Brett, Saeed, Geoff and Kassia at the Mental Health Open Day 2012
LATEST NEWS ON SAEED'S CASE
Saeed Dezfouli is a forensic patient who has been in detention since 19 January 2002 and could be held indefinitely despite doing an act normally punished with a short sentence. During this time, his rights have constantly been abused, he has been forcibly medicated and is under the Health Department's total control.
He is still being held in the highest security facilities, despite being a non-violent person who never intended the harm he caused. Saeed’s battle represents the universal struggle of mental health patients against the state’s attacks on their personal integrity. It concerns the right to not be assaulted, the right to education, and the right to person-centred health care - all of which are breached in Saeed’s case. The State’s callous indifference and abuse of mental patients rather than fulfilling their duty of care is the worst expression of community responsibility in a system costing over $200,000 a person a year.
Saeed brought proceedings in the Supreme Court, regarding a review of his treatment, back in February 2010. He sought the following orders:
- That the forensic hospital cease forcibly medicating him against his will;
- That he be given access to a computer donated to the hospital by the students of the University of NSW for educational purposes
- To cease psychiatric treatment from his then-current psychiatrist to be replaced with treatment from a psychiatrist of his choice.
To this day, despite our support, Saeed has not been able to achieve any of those aims even though they are basic to publicly stated person-centered health care.
Force and the abuse of power over vulnerable people is central to the mental health culture, and the medicalisation of social problems is basic to it. Tribunal support for a consumer worker allocation and computer access has been ignored by the hospital.
He has appealed to the Supreme Court three times to force assistance from the Mental Health Review Tribunal. Justice Action incurred a $60,000 court costs order with an arrest warrant and garnishee order issued until it was withdrawn in February 2015.
Justice Action stands beside Saeed as a focus person and his primary carer in this battle for human rights.
Read more about Saeed's story here.
Listen to ABCs 'The Man without a Name' here.
Here is a list of major issues relevant to Saeed Dezfouli's case:
Legal Proceedings & MHRT Hearings
On the 29th of November 2018, Malcolm Baker appeared before the Mental Health Review Tribunal to review his treatment order. Mr. Baker’s previous hearing on the 16th of August 2018 ordered a cease of forced administration of medication, and consequentially, Mr. Baker has been without medication since June 2018. Despite the implementation of these changes, Mr. Baker’s treatment order has not been formally amended. The purpose of this most recent hearing was to review the need for an ongoing treatment order. The Tribunal considered our Personal Management Plan for Malcolm Baker - the submission can be read here.
Opening the Tribunal, the lead psychiatrist’s opening statement proved that Mr Baker is mentally stable, drawing emphasis to the fact that he is not delusional and has not displayed any new psychotic symptoms since receiving the active order. The psychiatrist explained that Mr Baker’s experiences of paranoia are a result of traumatic events that have occurred both during his childhood and his imprisonment. Whilst Mr Baker may experience episodes of paranoid thinking after a traumatic or stressful event, it is important to note that these symptoms are transient and diminish within a few hours, rather than being serious signs of mental instability.
At the Tribunal, there appeared to be unanimous agreement that Mr Baker is not “a risk of serious harm to himself or others”, thereby exempting him from the legal definition of a ‘mentally ill person’ under s14 of the Mental Health Act. Consequentially, therapeutic intervention was agreed to be the preferred form of treatment for Mr Baker, rather than an ongoing plan for forced medication.
All persons at the hearing stressed the importance of ensuring Mr Baker would reside in a safe environment, and there was lengthy discussion about whether this will be best provided at Long Bay Hospital where Malcolm is currently held, or within the mainstream prison system. The lead psychiatrist advocated for psychological treatment within the hospital to assist Malcolm in building skills to re-enter the prison system. However, the psychiatrist also pointed out the benefits of Mr Baker returning to the mainstream prison system including access education, work, and the opportunity to effectively “make a life for himself”.
Nevertheless, the Tribunal has reserved making a formal judgement. They are expected to do so upon further deliberation in the next few weeks. Justice Action believes that it is possible to guarantee Mr Baker a ‘safe living environment’ in the prison system provided negotiation is constant between judicial and corrective NSW services. Mr Baker will continue to receive support from Justice Action and his family - the Tribunal agreed that Mr Baker would benefit from regular visits with renowned mental health consumer advocate Douglas Holmes. Justice Action deems the hearing a success and is optimistic about the outcome for Malcolm Baker's future.
Computers in Cells International Survey
Petition: Call for Computers in Cells for Juvenile Detainees
University of Southern Queensland Presentation
JA Juvenile Justice Summit Leaflet
Juvenile Justice Summit Agenda 4-5 May 2017
The subject of youth crime has been one of much public debate over the last few years. Statistics demonstrate that many youths who resort to crime face serious social and economical marginalisation. Furthermore, our juvenile clients commonly report experiences of neglect and physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Justice Action believes that major changes have to be made to the current youth justice system in order to combat these ongoing concerns.
Continued funding should not be given to juvenile detention centres; rather, the underlying systemic inequalities that youth offenders face must be immediately addressed. Tax dollars should instead be redirected towards furthering youth education and rehabilitation programs for young offenders; housing initiatives; and creating community centres and after-school initiatives, amongst various other things. This is the only way to either combat youth crime before it starts or break the vicious cycle of crime in which young offenders are trapped.
Click here for detailed proposals for mentoring and justice.
COMPUTERS IN JUVENILE CELLS
Computers in cells is a key initiative of Justice Action. The aim of the juvenile detention is supposed to be the rehabilitation of the juvenile offenders. A key part of this rehabilitation is education, which can be facilitated by the provision of computers into the cells of prisoners. Read more here.
About 400 activists, academics and ex-prisoners participated in the ICOPA 18 conference based at Birkbeck campus of the University of London.
It was hosted by the Department of Criminology Birkbeck University of London, Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative, the Open University, and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Other participating organisations were the Action for Trans Health, Bent Bars Project, Black Lives Matter UK, Empty Cages Collective, Inquest, IWW London, JENGbA, London Campaign against Police and State Violence, Netpol, North London Sisters Uncut, Race & Class collective, Reclaim Holloway, Reclaim Justice Network, Smash IPP!, Stopwatch and Women in Prison.
Justice Action brought with them a statement from Long Bay prisoners representing prisoners of Australia. (See underneath) This statement of solidarity was read as the final message of the conference on Monday afternoon. JA presented the Computers in Cells victory in Australia and shared the mechanisms for its adoption in all jurisdictions, giving prisoners the right to communication. The JUST US newspaper for people in prison and locked hospitals was distributed.
Academics from Australia and NZ presented their papers on abolition. The history of the anti-carceral feminist actions called Wring Outs in the 1980s and 1990s in Melbourne was presented by Emma Russell and Bree Carlton. Minnie Ratima and Pat Magill described resistance against Maori criminalisation and the Robson Collection in Napier Library supported by ICOPA in NZ in 1997. Community policing protecting sex workers in NZ was described.
18th International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA18) highlights in 15-18 of June 2018:
18th International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA 18) Summary:
Minnie Ratima and Pat Magill interview ICOPA18:
These videos are on YouTube now! For more details:
International Conference on Penal Abolition (Justice Action): http://justiceaction.org.au/prisons/prison-issues/icopa
ICOPA 18 website: https://icopa2018.com/
ICOPA 18 Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReclaimJustice
ICOPA 18 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Abolitionist-Futures-154837165177628/
ICOPA website: http://www.actionicopa.org/
ICOPA 19 will be in Miami US in mid 2019.
iExpress: Now launching prisoners & mental health patients online!
Justice Action is proud to introduce iExpress, the world’s first prisoner webpage and interactive email system aimed at empowering people in prisons and forensic hospitals and bringing them into the digitial world, reducing the divide and social exclusion that currently exists. They will now have the opportunity to access an exciting, new channel of self-expression and communication, free of charge. Launch video here.
We are bringing them out of the cells and onto the net! iExpress website
The NSW Government has adopted a new concept in prison architecture to allow an urgent response to an unexpected surge in prisoner numbers. This new form of imprisonment, holding 800 maximum security prisoners in dormitories of 25 together, is being constructed without public discussion about the consequences. The CJC has researched the international experience of prisoners dormitories and is concerned that this sytem raises levels of violence, bullying and fear, with damage to prisoner health and recividism. The uncertainty surrounding the concept of a dormitory styled prison is exhibited by plans to demolish the Wellington complex within 5-7 years.Cubicles in the dormitories will be 3m by 2m with partitions 1.5m high and no door. An increased level of activity will be offered using computers with educational access and potential for email.
David Dungay Jr, was a 26 year old Dungatti man, who died on December 29, 2015 in Sydney's Long Bay Prison Hospital. In an attempted cell transfer, Dungay had refused to stop eating a packet of biscuits. As a result, six guards held him down in a prone position, administering a sedative while nursing staff and four other guards looked on. He called out twelve times that he couldn't breathe before losing consiousness. By the time the guards realised the seriousness of the situation, several minutes had gone past before basic life saving support was attempted. Still, only two compressions were undertaken. Dungay had gone into asystole arrest, otherwise known as irreversible cardiac arrest.
For the full story: The tragic death in custody of David Dungay
Watch ‘The Guardian“ articles and videos about the Death of David Dungay
The Guardian ran a series of ‘Behind the Lines’, ‘Breathless’ podcasts as well as articles specifically on Dungay’s death in custody:
Other Media Articles on Dungay Case
Duty of care for complex health needs, forced medication & use of dangerous restraint (page 7)
Black Deaths in Custody in Australia
Indigenous Incarceration is a national tragedy that demands action
Deathscapes - Mapping Racialised Violence in Settler States
Institutional Abuse & Discrimination, Coronial Inquiries
Amanda Dissel & Jody Kollapen, ‘Racism and discrimination in the South African Penal system.’ Penal reform International, 2003, NCJ number NCJ 206983 https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publicatins/abstract.aspx?ID=206983
Barbara Chambers and Jan Pettman, ‘Anti-Racism: a Handbook for Adult Educators.’ Human Rights Commission Education, Series No. 1. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1986.
Chris Owen, ‘Every Mother’s Son is Guilty: Policing the Kimberly Frontier of Western Australia 1882-1905. UWAP Scholarly, 2016.
Charles Reasons, ‘Racism, Prisons, and Prisoner Rights.’ Issues in Criminology, Volume 9, Number 2 (Fall, 1974), 3-20, page 3.
Need For Criminal/Civil Liability
Peter Grabosky, Anita Scandia, Kayleen Hazelhurst, Paul Wilson, ‘Aboriginal deaths in custody’. Australian Institute of Criminology: trends and issues, Canberra May 1988.L. v. Commonwealth (1976) 10 ALR 269; Howard v. Jarvis (1958) 98 CLR
Black Deaths in Custody - New York and Internationally
CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTION FOR ‘JUST US’:
Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1997)
All Australian citizens have a constitutional right to engage in political communication not limited to election periods.
Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1997) is the leading authority for the implied freedom of political communication in the Australian Constitution:
“...each member of the Australian community has an interest in disseminating and receiving information, opinions and arguments concerning government and political matters that affect the people of Australia.”
This implied freedom is one grounded in the system of representative government instilled within the Constitution, which requires communication of political and governmental matters between the electors and the elected representatives:
“Freedom of communication on matters of government and politics is an indispensable incident of that system of representative government which the Constitution creates by directing that the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate shall be ‘directly chosen by the people’ of the Commonwealth and the States, respectively.”
“That being so, ss 7 and 24 and the related sections of the Constitution necessarily protect that freedom of communication between the people concerning political or government matters which enables the people to exercise a free and informed choice as electors.”
This is an ongoing freedom that is not just confined to the election period, as it is necessary for people to continue to receive relevant information between elections in order to make an informed decision when exercising their right to vote:
“Most of the matters necessary to enable ‘the people’ to make an informed choice will occur during the period between the holding of one, and the calling of the next, election. If the freedom to receive and disseminate information were confined to election periods, the electors would be deprived of the greater part of the information necessary to make an effective choice at the election.”
Whilst this is not a positive and absolute right, it places a restraint on the legislature and executive’s power to curtail the freedom of political communication, so far as is necessary for the effective operation of responsible and representative government.
Full judgment can be found here: http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/cth/HCA/1997/25.html?context=1;query=lange ;mask_path=au/cases/cth/HCA
 Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1997) 189 CLR 520
Just Us 2019 Education Edition
The Justice Action team distributing the 2019 Edition of Just Us
Just Us is the only publication to distribute 50,000 copies to people in prisons and locked hospitals throughout Australia. The latest issue focuses on the right to education within these facilities.
This issue includes statements from political parties directed at prisoners addressing a prisoner's right to education. This range of parties includes the Australian Greens Party, Australian Labor Party, Liberal Party, Australian Mental Health Party, Socialist Alliance Party, and more.
There are also statements from prison commissioners from New South Wales, South Australia, Australian Capital Territory, and Queensland regarding education and work opportunities for inmates.